IT’S A musical cliché: discord in relations between the players leads to discord in the players’ music. In A Late Quartet it’s the other way round. The tremors from Peter Mitchell’s (Christopher Walken) ageing hands ripple out, deep into the personal lives of his colleagues.
He’s the senior member of the Fugue, a celebrated quartet that’s been going for a quarter of a century. When he is diagnosed with Parkinson’s, it imbalances the group’s finely tuned group dynamic.
A new member must be brought in. Walken’s departure sets aswirl grievances and resentments that have built up over decades. Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) no longer wants to play second fiddle in the quartet, and his marriage is riven apart when his cellist wife Juliette (Catherine Keener) fails to support him.
Lead violinist is currently occupied by Daniel (Mark Ivanir), a stubborn perfectionist. To make matters worse, Daniel is teaching the violin to Juliette and Robert’s beautiful teenage daughter (Imogen Poots), and a dangerous sexual chemistry develops between them.
It feels too stagey and mannered at times but all is forgiven thanks to exceptional performances from Walken, Hoffman, Keener and Ivanir. Walken really is incredible. He isn’t on screen often but he invests his character with such warmth and wisdom, such a subtle shade of sadness. He has been wasted playing psychos all these years.
Thanks to him the finale is unexpectedly, overwhelmingly moving.